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A test of faith and ignorance

October 27, 2010

By Annie Hunter, Campus Life Editor

American residents come from every corner of the world. Citizens from every religous background reside with the freedom to bring any and all religious beliefs to the table. Surprisingly enough, Americans seem to know almost nothing about religions other than their own, and some didn’t have much knowledge on the religion they professed to believe in.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life created a 32-question survey that tested over 3,400 people on their religious understanding. CNN used a subsequent quiz, taking ten questions that would measure everything from basic knowledge of the Ten Commandments to the Supreme Court’s attitude towards religion in schools. The Enotah Echoes tested Young Harris College students on their religious know-how using the same survey conducted by CNN. No one surveyed by the Enotah Echoes missed less than two questions. However, some missed as many as six out of ten questions.

The majority of the questions missed by students involved a religion other than the Protestant movement of Christianity. The Pew Forum and CNN found similar results. For example, 79.2% of students surveyed did not know that the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday. The same percentage could also not identify Indonesia as a predominately Muslim country. This could be derived from a multitude of reasons, including a lack of contact with other cultures and Academia’s approach towards religious education.

The YHC demographic involves students who are mainly from small rural parts of Georgia. These areas typically have little diversity, offering less exposure to other cultures. Many students would not have experienced their classmates fasting for Ramadan, which 41.7% of YHC students did not know was Islam’s holy month. Their religious experience comes primarily from going to a Baptist or United Methodist church every Sunday.

“I have a lot of friends from a lot of different cultural backgrounds. I ask questions about what they believe and their customs,” said Kelsey Harris, a freshman early childhood education major from Lawrenceville. “I would also hear about a lot of holidays and events going on because my high school was so diverse. Gwinnet County is so transient; people are coming and going from all parts of the world.”

The school system, while it is not allowed to preach any sort of religion, can teach students about the beliefs and practices of other religions, which 50% of students surveyed didn’t know.
However, most schools seem to skim over other religions’ sacred writings and primarily read the Bible for its literary context.

“Our religion class was focused on Christianity, but our teacher was from India so we were able to learn a little about Buddhism and Hinduism,” said Maggie Neal, a freshman from Elberton.
It’s no secret that YHC is a college that lacks diversity. The majority of students on campus are white, southern Protestants, who according the Pew Forum’s survey knew the least about both the Bible and other religions. Ironically, those who had the highest score were atheists and agnostics. All of this raises an important question: How does America move past its lack of knowledge and learn to embrace its diversity in its entirety? In response, how will YHC open the eyes and minds of its students to religious diversity?

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  1. Dr. Nathan "Eric" DIckman
    October 27, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Great article, Annie. Your concluding questions are like the one’s I use to give shape to my courses in World Religions here at YHC. There are lot’s of options for responding to religious diversity, some philosophical and some more practical. One of the hardest things to do, though, is figuring out just what it means to “embrace” or “accept” religious diversity. Is it just coexistence or is it some sort of genuine engagement and relationship with people from different traditions or people who practice different things?

    Dr. Dickman

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